If you are like most humans living on earth, The Selby has never set foot in Your Place. But if you are sufficiently interesting, well-connected, and, above all, in possession of a certain creative panache, you may not want to rule out the possibility of a visitation.1
The Selby is in Your Place, showing at Jackson Fine Art in Buckhead through March 25, 2011, introduces Atlanta audiences to the work of blogger and photographer Todd Selby. The Selby, as he is known, has featured his friends and acquaintances in their natural habitats on theselby.com since 2008, and his following has grown from embryonically cultic to an enthusiastic adoption by some of the most powerful names in fashion and design.
That his work should eventually be picked up by the likes of Louis Vuitton and French Vogue is hardly coincidental. The friends and acquaintances of Selby are striking and unique subjects. His sitters’ surroundings are thus designed to reflect the character of their well-heeled, casually posed inhabitants.
Upon entering the gallery, the aristocratically impassive gazes of model Abigail Smiley Smith and fashion illustrator Philip Smiley greet the viewer. Abi, Phil and Willy Hops in the Backyard – the same image which graces the cover of Selby’s book published last year — frames the London family in an Edenic green.
In Simon and Jonathan playing Ping Pong, the playfully competitive couple with paddles raised over a paisley fuchsia table is none other than the home-design guru Jonathan Adler and husband Simon Doonan, Creative Ambassador-at-Large for Barneys New York.
Staggeringly stylish stacks await in Karl’s Library (that would be titan fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld). Simultaneously a tower of consumption, a potential source of influences, and a cloister of knowledge — albeit of the most excruciatingly design-conscious sort — the collection is capable of sending an art-oriented bibliophile into a fit of encyclopedic envy.
Using possessions to convey information about their owner is, of course, a familiar trope with an exceedingly long history. Curiously, Selby’s work is sometimes referred to as an antidote to the impossible domestic perfection illustrated in periodicals like Architectural Digest and Dwell. Spaces look “lived in.” The horrors of visible power cords, for instance, are totemic citations of Selbyian veracity.
Yet I am not entirely convinced that these images are meant to illustrate “the way people really live.” Perhaps it is cynical to believe that Notorious B.I.G. lyrics on a customized leather couch — even with a folded cardboard box stashed beneath — signify nothing so much as a cheeky stab at street cred. I don’t know many people — supermodels or otherwise — who perch seductively on their concrete counters, or languor in hot pink satin pants in the private library of their Paris apartment. It could be the fault of my own sheltered upbringing that interrupts immediate identification with Shelby’s subjects, but they are lovely to look at nonetheless.
Certainly, Dwell is hardly representative of the way the average American (or Finn or Londoner) lives, but the intimation that The Selby uncovers the reality of domestic bliss in the absence of extraordinary privilege is exasperatingly disingenuous. While they may accurately portray the circumstances of their sitters, these images are, in fact, about fantasy. This, too, is a longstanding tradition: Photography is the medium nonplus of fantasy while claiming veracity, but such claims do not truth make.
There are some losses to be claimed, none necessarily calamitous. Absent is the charm of the playful watercolor interviews which accompany the images on The Selby’s website, which help to contextualize, even personalize, Selby’s subjects. Besides the detail loss that will disturb some photography enthusiasts, when enlarged and devoid of context, the images veer into the glossy listlessness of fashion spread imagery whose endurance is questionable.
Time, of course, will tell. For a lesson on the longevity of frivolity, walk down Jackson Fine Art’s steps to view Magnum master Elliott Erwitt’s New York, Paris, & Rome. This old-school, black-and-white study in jetsetting serves as a reminder that The Selby’s spectatorial fascination with what glitters is anything but new. Both shows are on view through March 25.
1 And should you desire such a visitation, this humorous, handy guide is available to assist aspirants for appearing on Selby’s blog.